Two goals each for Baker and Hammond gives Grays a 4-2 victory over rivals Tilbury
It was doubles all round on an action packed Tuesday evening as Grays ran out 4-2 winners against Tilbury to ensue they did the double over their local rivals as Junior Baker and Jeff Hammond both scored a brace.
Grays had the better of the opening exchanges as they pushed for the opening goal to assert their authority on the game.
In the 5th minute Jack West flicked on a high ball to Joao Carlos who drove into the area enforce firing towards goal but the ball went narrowly over the bar.
In the 12th minute Jeff Hammond found space on the corner of the area for a shot but the ball was straight at James Marrable in the Tilbury goal who saved easily.
Tilbury's first effort came in the 18th minute as Tony Jacobs fired towards goal from the edge of the area but Lamar Johnson did well in the Grays goal to tip the ball round the post for a corner.
Grays had to wait until just after the half hour mark for their next effort and Tilbury defended resolutely. A long ball into the area was chested down by Joao Carlos to Kenny Beaney but his left footed shot was straight at James Marrable.
Tilbury replied with an effort of their own in the 33rd minute as the dangerous Tony Jacobs got to the corner of the area before firing low towards the near post but Lamar Johnson was on hand with the diving save.
The home side continued to press forward forcing three consecutive corners in the 39th minute which finally broke the Tilbury resistance. The third corner was deep to the back post where Junior Baker was left unmarked for a simple header into the net.
The away side were level just four minutes later however as a cross from the left was only cleared to the edge of the area. Ex-blues Emiel Aiken's shot was mis hit and ended up rolling into the path of Tony Jacobs on the six yard line who tapped into the net.
Tilbury pressed forward at the start of the second half with a new found confidence having equalised just before half time.
In the 54th minute a cross from the right found Emiel Aiken in the six yard box but his shot was blocked at point blank range by Jack West. The resulting corner was cleared to the edge of the area where Jack Carlile fired towards goal but his shot was also blocked.
This proved to be the kick start Grays needed as thy retook the lead two minutes later.
A Lee Flynn free kick was played into the box. The ball broke to Joao Carlos who fired towards goal. James Marrable did well to parry the shot but was powerless to stop the rebound as Junior Baker stoked the ball home.
This Tilbury side is made of stern stuff however and fought back again in the 70th minute. A loose all in the Grays area was pounced on by a Tilbury attacker who was brought down when poised to shoot. The referee awarded a penalty which Aaron Waters lashed home to level the scores.
A true sign of champions is to win the big games and bounce back from adversity which Grays did in the 77th minute. Despite being pegged back twice in the game, the home side were not to be denied. Kenny Beaney's through ball on the edge of the Tilbury area found Jeff Hammond who coolly lifted the ball over the advancing James Marrable and into the far corner of the net.
This time there would be no come back from Tilbury as Grays extended their lead just two minutes later. A free kick from the right by Lee Flynn was met by the head of Jeff Hammond who flicked the ball on and into the far corner to give the home side a two goal lead for the first time.
Grays made late changes with Jeff Hammond, Danny Bunce and Joao Carlos making way for Joe Sweeney, Kris Newby and Luke Marshall.
There was just enough time for Junior Baker to almost complete his hat trick in the 88th minute as a corner broke free in the area but the shot was weak and cleared off the line.
With Maldon & Tiptree not playing Grays were able to close within 3 points of the leaders, still with 3 games in hand.
Grays Athletic: Lamar Johnson, Craig Pope, Junior Baker, Ryan Kirby, Lee Flynn, Danny Bunce (Kris Newby 84),Kenny Beaney, Leon Lalite, Joao Carlos (Luke Marshall 90), Jeff Hammond (Joe Sweeney 80), Jack West
Unused Subs: David East, Daniel Subuola